Has the hype about Bernie Sanders died out?

Five Years Later: What Happened to Occupy Wall Street?

New York - In September 2011, New York experienced its Tahrir moment: for a short time it seemed as if the western world could experience its own version of the Arab Spring. But then the revolution failed and there was silence. What is the movement doing today?

There were scenes that kept the world in suspense: In the fall of 2011, over ten thousand demonstrators put New York's financial district in a state of emergency. From a few occupiers, the largest protest movement in North America emerged in a short time: Occupy Wall Street, the battle cry: "We are the 99 percent", an uprising against social inequality and the power of the financial elite. But just as quickly as the phenomenon became known, it seemed to have disappeared from the scene again. Or not?

"Are you ready for a Tahrir moment? Flocks to Lower Manhattan on September 17th, building tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupying Wall Street," was based on the Arab Spring and its epicenter, Tahrir Square in Cairo - the roll call that started it all. Initiated by the non-profit organization Adbusters, supported by Anonymous and other activist groups, the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street began.

Prose actions

Various protests followed, sometimes accompanied by riots and police violence, and a rapid spread to other cities. The movement achieved great fame in a short time and received a lot of support from celebrities, such as the Nobel Prize winners in economics, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. But in November 2011 the protest camps were cleared by the police and after that it quickly became quiet around Occupy.

The movement is far from dead, says Vanessa Williams, a social policy expert at the Brookings think tank. "Occupy Wall Street has split into other grassroots initiatives." It is largely thanks to her that the topic of social inequality determines the public debate in the USA today. In the US primary campaign, the movement successfully supported Bernie Sanders, a candidate who stood for almost 100 percent of its ideals.

"Today it is clear to politicians that they have to address people's concerns about social and economic injustice," says Occupy-related sociologist Heather Hurwitz, who conducts research on grassroots movements at Barnard College. Occupy is now behind democratic figureheads like Sanders or the Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren. Their popularity shows that the influence of the protesters from then continues to be great.

Stricter banking regulation

The popularity of Sanders and Warren is the reason that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has to make concessions in the election campaign, for example in the form of stricter banking regulation. Sanders' candidacy has mobilized and welded Occupy Wall Street again. "That also drove Hillary's campaign to more progressive goals," says Hurwitz. Brookings expert Williams says, "The movement has changed all public dialogue about how business should work".

But achieving public debate does not have to mean real social change. The big banks, against whose power Occupy took to the streets at the time, continue to make billions in profits almost every quarter, and their board members are still regularly reaping big bonuses. Wealth studies show that the income gap is widening. "Those problems are not resolved - if success means creating equal opportunities for all, Occupy has failed," says Williams.

"Many people are still upset that there are no stricter rules and no greater transparency in the banking industry. And that those responsible for the financial crisis have still not been held accountable," says Barnard Doctor Hurwitz. One should not write off the movement - the activism continues. There are also numerous successful local initiatives initiated by Occupy - minimum wages and student loans are just two of them. "There's a lot going on beneath the surface." (APA, dpa, Hannes Breustedt, September 16, 2016)